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Coming off Psychiatric Drugs: Successful Withdrawal from Neuroleptics, Antidepressants, Lithium, Carbamazepine and Tranquilizers, Peter Lehmann (ed.). Eugene, OR, Peter Lehmann Publishing, 2004. 352 pages. Softbound. $24.95.


Do-it-yourself drug withdrawal

A review by Harold A. Maio

Millions of people are taking psychiatric drugs -- Haloperidol, Prozac, Risperidone, Zyprexa. To them, detailed accounts of how others came off these substances without once again ending up in the doctor's office are of fundamental interest.

For anyone in a mental health profession, anyone studying for a mental health profession, anyone teaching those students, anyone prescribing psychotropic drugs, and anyone with a loved one taking psychotropic drugs, this book is a reference of great value. And of course, it's of great value for individuals taking psychotropic drugs themselves, and their relatives. It belongs in every mental health library for its very personal stories of self-advocacy, self-discovery and self-efficacy.

Twenty-eight people from throughout the world -- Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. -- write about their experiences with withdrawal. Another eight people, these in mental health professions, report how they helped people in the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal from psychotropic drugs is not for everyone. It should be considered with caution, as this book carefully explains, and like withdrawal from any drug is not to be taken lightly. Withdrawal is a process, a careful process, and one which, once decided upon, must be painstakingly approached.

My own experiences with withdrawal -- sudden, precipitous and without knowledge or support -- contrasts starkly with the careful approach of each of the contributors: On December 24, 2003, a doctor precipitously ended my relationship with her office, denying me renewals on all the psychotropic medications I was taking, and had taken for a period of 2 years under the guidance of one of her colleagues, who had taken a leave of absence. What followed were weeks of fear, tension and stress; terrible flu-like symptoms, which finally abated, but which so weakened me that I developed pneumonia. Neither my wife nor I understood what was happening to me: the pain, sweats, fatigue, the onset of pneumonia. Together we learned just how debilitating sudden withdrawal from psychotropic drugs can be.

The physician's abandonment so frightened me that I now have a very difficult time visiting any doctor, fearing yet another negative experience, another abuse. Since the withdrawal I have taken no psychotropic drugs. I have encountered no exacerbated symptoms of depression.

Regina Bellion, in recounting her story, explains it well: "Each individual must make their own decision regarding whether or not they wish to withdraw from psychiatric drugs. It would never occur to me to tell someone else what they should do," she writes. Her own tale of withdrawal and self-discovery is a personal Odyssey carefully retold, described in such detail that the reader will accompany her every emotion on the journey:

"There are techniques (gymnastics, breathing exercises, posture) for influencing and changing your condition," she writes. "Everyone must discover the techniques appropriate for him or herself. This is not something that can be done quickly in one's spare moments. It takes time and energy to develop one of those techniques into an aid that can be promptly utilized.

"An example: As quickly as I can bring myself into a stressful state with quick short breaths, I can also bring myself into a peaceful state with calm, deep breaths. Or if I constantly slink around with my head low, then it is no wonder that my mood becomes depressed. Such simple things are not a panacea. But they have effects that I can make use of."

As is each narrative, Bellion's is a journey in search of self. Having withdrawn from drugs, she now applies her mind to understanding personal defenses and strategies to assure a healthy life.

The journeys of each of the authors of this publication will come alive for you, and whether you do or do not wish to encourage the idea of withdrawal, the journeys will enlighten you.

Posted Sept. 20, 2004

Harold A. Maio, Consulting Editor of the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, heads The Mental Health Clearing House. His last article for Ragged Edge was The Diminution of Self.

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